TIME History

The Christian Roots of Modern Environmentalism

Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt.
Time Life Pictures—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt.

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Presbyterianism inspired Teddy Roosevelt's conservationist zeal

Like only a handful of presidents, Theodore Roosevelt lives in our memory and popular culture. He is the bespectacled face gazing from Mount Rushmore, the namesake for the teddy bear, and the advice-giving Rough Rider, played by Robin Williams in the movie Night at the Museum. We remember him, too, as the trust buster who broke up monopolies, the avid outdoorsman and conservationist who preserved parks, forests, and wildlife, and the politician who crusaded for a “fair deal,” a just and equitable society that works for everyone.

Yet Roosevelt’s colorful life and accomplishments distract us from an essential part of him: the profoundly moralistic worldview that fired his progressive zeal. Some recent biographers go so far as to overlook this element of his character completely, but Roosevelt’s friends and colleagues recognized in him, in the words of one friend, “the greatest preacher of righteousness in modern times. Deeply religious beneath the surface, he made right living seem the natural thing, and there was no man beyond the reach of his preaching and example.” As Senator Henry Cabot Lodge mused, “The blood of some ancestral Scotch Covenanter or of some Dutch Reformed preacher facing the tyranny of Philip of Spain was in his veins, and with his large opportunities and his vast audiences he was always ready to appeal for justice and righteousness.”

Lodge astutely singled out the Calvinist traditions in Roosevelt’s ancestry: the Dutch Reformed Church on his father’s side and the Scottish Presbyterian Church (whose Covenanters fought the tyranny of England’s Charles I) on his mother’s, not to mention his own upbringing in New York’s Madison Square Presbyterian Church. How significant Roosevelt’s religious origins were really struck home to me when I realized how many national leaders of the Progressive Era shared them. I had been looking at the denominational origins of major American environmentalists and already knew how dominant people raised Presbyterian, often with ministers in the family, were during its rise. Still, when I turned to progressivism I was unprepared for the extent to which Presbyterians ran the show. Non-Presbyterian presidents held office a mere eight-and-a-half years between 1885 and 1921. Of those born in the church, —Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson—two, Cleveland and Wilson, were sons of ministers. Only two Presidents before Cleveland were raised Presbyterian, and none after Wilson has been.

I wondered what all this Presbyterianism could mean for progressivism, a movement that included people of all faiths, and what this religious strain in politics meant for crusades that these days might be typically colored strictly “red” or “blue.”

Progressives grew up in an era in which big money corrupted politics, large corporations dominated the economy, and environmental crises threatened the natural world – forces that might rouse the ire of those on the “blue” side of the spectrum today. But the situation was a call to arms for those who were steeped in the Calvinist demand for a righteous society, a kind of moralizing that might be more considered on the “red” side of the current spectrum.

At this time in history, though, it was the progressives who were the evangelicals out to spread righteousness in the nation. Censorious Presbyterians attacked greed and avarice with a special vengeance, as the sins that prompted Eve to reach for the forbidden fruit and exile us all from the Garden.

I realized how easily Presbyterian evangelical righteousness translated from church pulpits to political podiums. This church imbued Roosevelt and his fellow progressive leaders with the moral courage to take on the concentrated wealth that corrupted American democracy and dominated the economy. When in 1901 Roosevelt found himself with “such a bully pulpit,” in his famous phrase, no wonder that he impressed people as a preacher of righteousness.

This same moral courage was necessary to drive American environmentalism. Calvinist churches fostered a particularly strong interest in nature and natural history; John Calvin himself regarded nature as a place where God drew nearest and communicated himself and he spoke of the natural world as the theater of his glory. To many Calvinists, nature study had an aura of sanctity as a moral occupation for men, women, and children alike. God, they said, gave natural resources to humans to use for the common good, but not sinfully to waste or turn to greedy or selfish purposes.

Under Harrison, Cleveland, Roosevelt, and Wilson, national government made dramatic strides in conservation. They expanded National Parks from one to two dozen, organized the Park Service, created millions of acres of National Forests, established the Forest Service, and named and promulgated conservation. They had essential assistance from their Secretaries of Interior (parks) and Agriculture (forests), who during the heyday of conservation between 1889 and 1946 were Presbyterians in three years out of four. For Wilson, a Southerner little interested in conservation, Interior Secretary Franklin Lane was prime instigator of major parks expansion and organization.

Roosevelt was the unexcelled exemplar of this passion for nature and moralism about its use. As a boy, he created a zoo in his home and learned taxidermy to preserve specimens. At Harvard, he originally intended to study natural history. After he chose a career in politics, he was an unusually knowledgeable ornithologist and published books on natural history, hunting, and his wilderness adventures. Aptly, as vice president, Roosevelt was climbing Mount Marcy in the Adirondacks when he learned William McKinley had died and he was now president.

Roosevelt believed government must protect nature and natural resources against the rapacious forces of self-interested avarice. “Conservation is a great moral issue,” he asserted. “I believe that the natural resources must be used for the benefit of all our people, and not monopolized for the benefit of the few.” As president, he added five National Parks, created the first 18 National Monuments, quadrupled the acreage of National Forests, established the first 51 bird refuges and four game refuges, oversaw the first irrigation projects and several major dams, and made the new term “conservation” the cornerstone of his political agenda.

After he died in 1919, Roosevelt inspired many to carry on with his work. One was the fervent progressive Harold Ickes, who said of the moment he learned of Roosevelt’s death, “something went out of my life that has never been replaced.” Unsurprisingly, Ickes was a Presbyterian who once intended to go into the ministry. One friend even called him “furiously righteous.” Among his many acts as Secretary of Interior in the administration of Roosevelt’s cousin Franklin, he desegregated the National Parks and added the first four parks intended to remain as undeveloped wilderness: Everglades, Olympic, Kings Canyon, and Isle Royale. His career was a fitting capstone to the great era of progressive Presbyterianism.

Mark Stoll is an associate professor at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. He is the author most recently of Inherit the Holy Mountain: Religion and the Rise of American Environmentalism.

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TIME Civil Rights

Montana Polygamist Seeks ‘Legitimacy’ After Supreme Court Ruling

"Ours is a happy, functional, loving family," Nathan Collier tells TIME

On Tuesday, Nathan Collier went to the Yellowstone County Courthouse in his hometown of Billings, Montana, to register to get married to his partner Christine. The problem? Collier has been married to wife Victoria since 2000. And under Montana law, bigamy is outlawed except for faith reasons; Collier is not marrying Christine and Victoria due to his religious beliefs, making his marriage license illegal under bigamy laws.

“Everyday, we have to break the law to exist as a family,” Collier said in an interview with TIME. “We’re tired of it.”

The Montana trio argue that under Friday’s landmark Supreme Court decision recognizing same-sex marriage across the country as legal, their polygamous relationship should be legally recognized and guaranteed the same rights as heterosexual and homosexual marriages. “If you read the justice’s statement, it applies to polygamists,” Collier said.

He’s referring to the dissent by Chief Justice John Roberts, who argued that the reasoning for giving same-sex couples the right to marry “would apply with equal force to the claim of a fundamental right to plural marriage.”

Spurred by Roberts’ words, the three decided to go to the courthouse Tuesday armed with the Supreme Court ruling. County clerks initially denied to give a marriage license upon learning that Collier’s marriage with Victoria had not been dissolved. But the clerk returned afterwards, saying that they would refer to the county attorney’s office before making a decision. The county’s chief civil litigator is looking to have a formal response by early next week:

Collier and his two “wives” have a long and complicated history since meeting in 1999. In 2000, Collier legally married Victoria; he and Christine had a “religious ceremony” that year as well. After breaking up, Christine legally married another man; that marriage ended in divorce in 2006. In 2007, Collier and Christine again had a religious ceremony, and Christine joined Victoria and Collier in their home. Together, the family has five children.

The way Collier, Victoria, and Christine were treated at the courthouse made the family feel “violated,” Collier said. “We feel entitled for a legal legitimacy and for [the Yellowstone County Courthouse] to deny this is a violation of our civil rights … We feel the marriage equality law applies to us.”

Collier says that all his family seeks to do is be legally recognized and not live in fear anymore. If that means that he can bring polygamous relationships to the national conversation, Collier says he’d be willing to be arrested or sue the state if his license gets denied. “Ours is a happy, functional, loving family,” he said. “I’m not trying to redefine marriage. I’m not forcing anyone to believe in polygamy. We’re only defining marriage for us. We just want legitimacy.”

TIME faith

Episcopalians Vote to Allow Gay Marriage in Churches

Clergy can now perform religious weddings for same-sex couples

(SALT LAKE CITY)—Episcopalians have voted to allow religious weddings for same-sex couples, just days after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide.

The vote came Wednesday in Salt Lake City at the denomination’s national assembly. The measure passed by an overwhelming margin in the House of Deputies, the voting body of clergy and lay people at the meeting. The day before, the House of Bishops had approved the resolution, 129-26 with five abstaining.

The New York-based church of nearly 1.9 million members is known for electing the first openly gay Episcopal bishop in 2003. Since then, many dioceses have allowed priests to perform civil same-sex weddings.

Still, the church hadn’t changed its own laws on marriage until Wednesday.

Under the new rules, clergy can decline to perform the ceremonies.

TIME faith

A Cannabis Church Tests Indiana’s Religious-Freedom Law

Members of the congregation at the First Church of Cannabis sing and dance during the church's first service on July 1, 2015, in Indianapolis.
Michael Conroy—AP Members of the congregation at the First Church of Cannabis sing and dance during the church's first service on July 1, 2015, in Indianapolis

The group claims opposition to their pot worship is religious persecution

A church devoted to the legalization of marijuana held its first service in Indianapolis on Wednesday.

The First Church of Cannabis, founded in March of this year with members who identify as Cannaterians, is seeking to legalize marijuana in Indiana as a religious liberty. The church is citing the state’s controversial Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, which went into effect on Wednesday. The law, which permits companies and individuals to defend themselves in legal proceedings by citing religious beliefs, has been attacked by opponents who argue that it could be used by those who want to discriminate against LGBT people. But the First Church of Cannabis hopes to turn that concern on its head, using the law to allow for legal marijuana use.

The gathering on Wednesday included Christian hymns, from the traditional “Amazing Grace” to a rendition of the marijuana smokers’ anthem, “Mary Jane.”

But the service after the hymns was decidedly nontraditional, including testimony from church members on medical marijuana and pot growers arguing for their legalization. (The church grounds had no marijuana, as marijuana possession is illegal in Indiana.)

The Cannaterians, a group which counts its worshipers in the thousands and asks its members for a $4.20 tithing per month, view marijuana as a religious sacrament, according to Bill Levin, the “Grand Poobah” of the church, who said that opposition to the church and its teachings was akin to religious persecution.

“Among its distinguishing features are its belief in the gift of Cannabis from a supreme power from which man and woman are to use for the betterment of humankind,” the church’s website reads.

The First Church of Cannabis isn’t the first group to challenge the intersection of federal law and religion. Canna Care, a “Christian-based” medical marijuana dispensary in Sacramento, Calif., fought with the Internal Revenue Service on the company’s tax bill under a 1982 law that did not recognize drug trafficking as a business, thereby making it illegal for the group to pay taxes.

Some in Indiana’s religious community reacted negatively to First Church of Cannabis.

“I don’t believe it’s a religion,” said Bill Jenkins, a local pastor of an evangelical church. “I believe it’s a drug house.”

Read next: Episcopalians Vote to Allow Gay Marriage in Churches

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TIME faith

Inside Pope Francis’ U.S. Trip Schedule

Vatican Pope Francis'
Massimo Valicchia—NurPhoto/AP Pope Francis during his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at Vatican City, on June 24, 2015.

The schedule says a lot about Pope Francis' focus

Pope Francis’ schedule is almost always a political document. Everyone wants a piece of it, especially when it comes to his upcoming September trip to the U.S. The White House and Congress, not to mention outside groups, have been lobbying for months to try to influence his agenda. On Tuesday morning, the Vatican and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released the official schedule for the trip. Predictably, it is packed. Pope Francis will visit Cuba and the U.S. from Sept. 19-28—four days in Cuba, five in the U.S—and give a total of 26 addresses, 18 of them in the U.S.

The world has known the big-ticket items for months—a meeting with President Obama, an address to the U.S. Congress, a talk at the United Nations, and a mass in Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families. But the other events hold just as powerful a message. The logistics are often the key to understanding the entire agenda—where Pope Francis is, who he is with, where he is coming from and where he is going next say as much about his message as his words themselves.

This schedule shows the Pope’s diplomatic acumen from the start. Pope Francis comes to Washington only after giving first dibs to Cuba, an island that the U.S. had blackballed economically until he intervened in December. And, Pope Francis will fly directly from there to Joint Base Andrews outside Washington DC, symbolizing the new link he helped to forge between the two nations.

Once he has arrived in the U.S., Pope Francis establishes a pattern—he links political events with pastoral ones. His first full day in Washington, the Pope will meet with Obama at the White House, and then leave to hold midday prayer with the U.S. bishops at St. Matthew’s Cathedral. It is tradition for the pope to gather the bishops when he visits, and leaving the White House for a church shows the value Francis places on the work of the church and its leaders.

The next day, immediately after speaking to the U.S. Congress, he will visit Catholic Charities, the social outreach ministry of the Archdiocese of Washington, which does extensive work to serve the area’s poor, homeless and immigrant communities. The juxtaposition is a not-so-subtle hint about who Pope Francis hopes political leaders will be—politicians who serve the poor, instead of staying isolated in the halls of power.

The pattern continues in New York, where Pope Francis will begin his time with an evening prayer service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral before addressing the U.N. the next morning. From there, he will—again—go directly to an interfaith service at the 9/11 Memorial at the World Trade Center. It is another statement about the importance of solidarity, especially between Christians and Muslims in the face of global extremism. Pope Benedict visited Ground Zero to pray in 2008, but Francis is taking it to another level with an interfaith focus. He will then visit a Catholic elementary school in East Harlem, and celebrate mass in Madison Square Garden.

When Pope Francis goes to Philadelphia, the pattern shifts, but only slightly. The World Meeting of Families, a Catholic gathering of families every three years hosted this time in Philadelphia, was from the start the reason for his trip to the U.S. Here, Francis adds specifically political moments to a primarily pastoral visit. In addition to celebrating mass at the Cathedral Basilica, visiting the Festival of Families, and meeting the bishops at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary, Pope Francis will visit Philadelphia’s largest prison, the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility. What Pope Francis will do there remains to be seen, but his mere presence will both highlight high incarceration rates in the U.S. and make it hard to ignore the Catholic Church’s opposition to the death penalty.

The whole trip concludes with an outdoor mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, where Pope John Paul II celebrated mass in 1979.

Francis’ schedule is like a liturgy. It is a roadmap to guide the desired focus of, and communal participation in, his message. And the places he has chosen—Catholic Charities in Washington, a school in Harlem, an interfaith service at Ground Zero, a prison in Philadelphia—will likely end up saying as much about what Francis’ focus is as anything else.

TIME faith

This Is Pope Francis’ Schedule for His Upcoming Trip to the U.S.

Includes trips to Washington, New York and Philadelphia

The Vatican has released the full schedule for Pope Francis’ September Apostolic Journey to the U.S., which includes meeting with President Obama at the White House, an address at the U.N. General Assembly in New York and a “multi-religious service” at the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

The trip marks the Pope’s first visit to the U.S. since becoming pontiff and will also include a stop in Philadelphia for the “World Meeting of Families,” a church-sponsored gathering that takes place once every three years. The six-day trip will take place between Sept. 22 and Sept 27, and was first announced in November 2014.

See the full schedule of the Pope’s trip here.

TIME faith

Global Jewish Population Approaches Pre-Holocaust Levels

Roughly 70 years after the close of World War II, global Jewish population returns to 16.5 million

The global Jewish population is nearly as large as it was before the Holocaust, according to a new tally released by an Israeli think tank on Monday.

A report by the Jerusalem-based Jewish People Policy Institute estimates that the global Jewish population has reached 14.2 million people. If accounting for people with one Jewish parent and people who identify as partially Jewish, the number reaches close to pre-Holocaust levels of 16.5 million, the Associated Press reports.

The report says that the rise is due to natural growth, mainly in Israel. In addition, 59% of adult children in the U.S. who have one Jewish parent say they identify as Jewish.

About 6 million Jewish people were killed during the Holocaust.

[AP]

TIME Crime

Feds Investigate String of Fires at Black Churches in South

Church Fire Investigation
Davie Hinshaw—AP Elisha Walker, 9, and his mother Bonita Walker look at the charred remains of the back left wing of Briar Creek Road Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C. on June 24, 2015.

6 black churches catch fire with 3 suspected as arson in wake of Emanuel murders

A string of fires at churches with predominantly black congregations is being examined by federal investigators in the wake of the recent massacre at Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina.

Six churches have burned in the past week, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, and three of the fires are being investigated as arson. Given the history of anti-black violence centering around churches, particularly in the south, the SPLC says the incidents may not be a coincidence.

According to the Washington Post, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives are involved in the investigation into the incidents — though the FBI says it’s too soon to tell if they’re at all connected.

The College Hill Seventh Day Adventist Church in Knoxville, Tenn. was set ablaze on June 22, along with a church van outside of the building. Investigators suspect arson, though WATE reports it is not being investigated as a hate crime.

TIME reported last week that a fire at a black Baptist church in Charlotte, N.C. is being investigated as arson. The fire at Briar Creek Baptist church was reportedly so big it took around 75 firefighters about an hour to get the flames under control.

In Macon, Ga., investigators believe the God’s Power Church of Christ was also intentionally set ablaze and have been investigating a fire there as an arson.

Three other churches in Florida, South Carolina, and Tennessee were set on fire last week, too, though two were believed to be caused by either lightning or electric wires, the Post reports. A cause for one of the fires has not yet been determined.

Scrutiny of the series of fires comes after the killing of nine people at a Bible study meeting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. The suspected killer in that case Dylann Roof, 21, was motivated by racial hatred.

President Obama noted Friday the black church has long been the “center of African-American life” at the funeral for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was killed by Roof. Violence against black churches dates back to before the Civil Rights movement, though there was a spate of incidents in the 1990s.

TIME faith

The Incredible True Story Behind ‘Amazing Grace’

Its author was an atheist slave trader who found salvation

When President Obama turned to the soaring lyrics of Amazing Grace to comfort the grieving families in Charleston, South Carolina this week, he was turning to a song that is almost as much of a staple of the U.S. Presidency as Hail to the Chief. Yet, as there is so often when race is the topic, the back story behind the hymn that is suddenly everywhere is not so simple.

Amazing Grace was written by an Englishman who in the early part of his life was an outspoken atheist, libertine, and slave trader. John Newton was born in London in 1725, the son of a Puritan mother and a stern ship commander father who took him to sea when he was 11 (“I am persuaded that he loved me but he seemed not willing that I should know it,” he later wrote).

By 1745, Newton was enlisted in the slave trade, running captured slaves from Africa to, ironically, Charleston, S.C. After he rode out a storm at sea in 1748, he found his faith. He was ordained an Anglican priest in 1764 and became an important voice in the English abolitionist movement. At that time he wrote the autobiographical Amazing Grace, along with 280 other hymns.

Today Amazing Grace is beloved by Presidents and citizens alike and remains a go-to hymn at American funerals, because of its striking melodies and ever-popular narrative of personal redemption. The born-again Jimmy Carter was the first recent President to embrace Amazing Grace, singing it with everyone from Willie Nelson to Senate Majority leader Robert Byrd.

But this spiritual is nonpartisan. It was performed at the funeral of Ronald Reagan by Ronan Tynan and at Gerald Ford’s funeral by a single bagpiper. At Richard Nixon’s funeral, Billy Graham quoted from Amazing Grace in his eulogy and told the story of John Newton, crediting him for later working to end the English slave trade.

Race is the moëbius strip of American life, always turning and eating its own tail. President Obama may have thought he was choosing a lovely hymn to comfort the afflicted, which he surely did. But, as always, salvation is not so simple.

TIME faith

Jewish Groups to Mark ‘Shabbat of Solidarity’ With Black Community After Charleston

In an unusual display of unity, the call comes from leaders in virtually every sect of American Judaism

A broad swath of American Jewish groups has declared Friday, June 26, to Saturday, June 27, to be a “Shabbat of Solidarity” with the African-American community, after the massacre of nine black churchgoers during a prayer meeting on June 17 at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, S.C.

During this sabbath period, Jews will be encouraged to speak out “on the issue of racism in society and to express rejection of hateful extremism,” the organizations said in a joint statement. Congregations are also urged to connect with local AME churches to express compassion and support.

“We stand together as a united American Jewish community in calling for a Shabbat of important introspection and examination of racism in the United States,” Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt of Potomac, Maryland, who is the president of the Rabbinic Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America, said in the statement. “We hope to convey our support to the African-American community nationwide and show all that we will not stand for violent acts driven by hatred.”

Weinblatt’s organization was joined by the American Jewish Committee; Hillel, a confederation of Jewish student groups; the Jewish Council for Public Affairs; and representative groups from the Orthodox, Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative sects.

As part of the day of solidarity, Rabbis Adam Stock Spilker and Shoshanah Connover of the organization Rabbis Organizing Rabbis, released a special Mi sheiberach, a traditional prayer for healing, that may be used in congregations across the country. The prayer asks for “healing to a nation in tears, to families and friends crying out in grief over nine precious souls — victims of racism and gun violence — taken from this earth too soon.”

The Solidarity Shabbat comes on the heels of a week already full of such events, with interfaith services held across the country, from Des Moines to Detroit to Long Island.

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